“Comparison is the thief of joy.” ~ Teddy Roosevelt
I talk about this quote a lot, it’s been with me for years and years, and I’m sure I’ve written about it in several blogs. But, it bears repeating: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Part of what Yoga helps us to do is to turn inward, to become familiar with consciously inhabiting our own center point, such that we shift from a habitual, external focus in the world to an internal focus of presence while we’re in the world. We learn to drop anchor into the steadfast constancy in ourselves – our closest contact point to The Divine – so that we stop drifting around on the choppy waves of the ever-shifting world outside of ourselves. We practice this in the slow context of the meditation cushion and mat, so that we learn to be anchored within as we go about our daily interactions with the external world, where everything flies around at warp speed.
Maintaining this tether of centered-from-within presence while in the fast-moving world is hard and I am most definitely a work in progress with it all. It’s getting easier that it used to be, but I still find myself losing my center sometimes, letting my energy and power drain out to other people, other situations, and other things outside myself. When I choose to do this, I slowly pull my anchor in and start drifting. I know this is happening when I start to lose my joy, my grounded sense of self, which feels terrible – as it should. And if I don’t catch the awful feelings as feedback of how I’m choosing to use my awareness, I find that I easily revert to a very old pattern of looking “out there” for my sense of self so that I can feel better. Every time I choose to look outside of myself to feel better, I make a pact with that old thief who takes away joy and all other good feelings: comparison.
Instead of slowing down and reclaiming my grounded center, which is what’s needed and is the only way for me to feel better, I start looking around at other people, what they’re doing, and make the comparison that other people have it all together. It’s easy to look at others and the way they present themselves in the world and think they have a perfect life and don’t ever struggle about anything. Because of this comparison I make, the resulting feeling is to think that something is somehow defective in myself and I don’t have enough of what they have; which puts me into a state of lack. Feeling less-than and feeling like I am not enough or don’t have enough is like gasoline sitting next to the fire of low self-worth. If I choose to pour that on the fire, it’s only going to get bigger.
I find that the Facebook experience can really ramp this up. I post things, like this blog, for example, or vacation pictures, or something I’ve been doing or thinking about…and then I scroll through the news feed to see what my friends are up to. My goal is connection at the beginning of the scroll. Facebook is a great way to stay connected to my friends and when I’m centered and anchored in who I am, I love seeing what people are up to. I enjoy celebrating their joys and smile with their smiles. However, if I have chosen to pull up my anchor and drift, losing my ground and my center, my desire for inner connection becomes an experience of outward comparison.
Instead of an interactive experience of real-time conversation, where there’s a back and forth exchange of energy, an outward pulse and an inner pause, I’ve noticed on Facebook, that my sole focus is outward – on others. When I scroll through the news feed, I’m doing nothing but looking at other people’s stories, other people’s pictures, which are like visual sound bites. If I’m not anchored in my truth, comparison rears it’s ugly head. How can it not? It’s the by-product of being adrift on the choppy waters. If I continue to let myself scroll through the news feed without the inner anchor dropped, tethered to my joy, feeling my abundance, feeling that I am enough, appreciating my unique individuality…well, all of that slides down the drain and I’m using what I see to fuel my state of lack. Suddenly, I’ve poured the gasoline on the fire.
Here’s what I begin hear in my head: “Wow, everyone else has the perfect marriage – look how happy everyone is. They probably never argue or have any issues to work out. Oh, gosh, look at that, people going to a family reunion and actually enjoying being around all those relatives. Man, everyone else goes to Europe except me – I’ll probably never have the money to see Paris, like I’ve always dreamt about. Oh, God, look at her body. I’m 53, I have cellulite that won’t go away and saggy skin I can’t do anything about and now I’ve decided to let my hair go gray. And great, I’ve been doing Yoga for more than 20 years and I can’t even bend my body with any semblance of that that. I suck. What is wrong with me?”
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Here’s what I’ve learned.
The thing is that most of us don’t post pictures on Facebook of ourselves going through hard things, feeling less-than, feeling scared of life, anxious over the state of perpetual not-knowingness and not having things all figured out. We don’t talk about feeling less-than, or feeling frustrated and overwhelmed because our lives don’t seem to compare to those of others. We like to post and share our successes, but we don’t post about the foundation upon which success is built: failure. In order to walk, we must first learn to fall. And there are a whole lot of us in the world walking around, which means there has been a whole lot of falling happening. We all fall. Every single one of us. Birds have to learn how to fall before they can fly. In order to rise up, one must first fall down. We don’t like to talk about that so much.
There is no such thing as the perfect anything. Each of us is on our own path, never before seen by anyone, and struggling is part of it. If we were able to get underneath the visual sound bites of Facebook posts to the whole stories behind the pictures of apparent perfection that we see, we would indeed discover trials and hardships behind every one of them. We all fall, we all fail, we all feel insecure, and none of us – nobody – has it all figured out. None of us are perfect, no matter what any pictures look like, but we are all ENOUGH. We are enough. We have enough, we are beautiful, we are gifted, talented, and here to let our innate brilliance shine out into the world. The world is in need of what we’ve been given.
One of the things that’s been important to me as a yoga teacher is to share my own struggles, to share how hard things can be, and to clearly say that I don’t have things figured out. It’s so easy to think the teacher has it all together and lives in a constant state of bliss. Not true! This business of living the yoga is not for the faint of heart. It’ll pull you out of your comfort zone, it’ll bring you to your knees at times. That’s part of learning to walk the path through uncharted territory. As we keep going, listening inwardly for how to take each step and bravely putting one foot in front of the other, we will discover who we really are: The Divine being Itself right there where we are. When we allow ourselves to be the place where that shines through, we become healed and changed, which heals and changes the world.
So, I just wanted to say: “I do not have it all figured out” and “I don’t know.” These are some of the most freeing and empowering words in my vocabulary. It’s taken a whole lotta years walking forward on my path for me to let these words come to the surface; more than 20 years of yoga and meditation, over 8 years of recovery work, and what feels like lifetimes of a slow growth of courage welling up inside myself to let go of the pretenses of appearing to have my life perfectly stitched together. I don’t. Nobody does, despite how things appear on the surface. That’s why we’re all here on planet, I think; to to get our hands dirty in the soil of this earth and the uncomfortable messiness of embracing this wild trip of a ride of being spiritual beings embodied as humans for a while. Though we walk together, each of us is on our own journey. Let’s not let comparison steal our joy.